The Morning After #7: August 9, 2010

You never fully realize just how much you have to do during the weekend until you don’t have the full of it to do what you need to do. Suffice it to say, I am severely behind on movies, but managed to at least get two down, but had intended on watching four. Plus, periodically throughout the week, when I could squeeze them in, I managed three episodes of a new series.

So, here is what I watched this weekend:

ADVISE & CONSENT

It’s an intriguing political drama that relies too heavily early on attempting to educate the audience on the details of Senate structure and operation, but when the film finally gets into its meaty plot, you can’t help but pay attention. Whether it’s the threat of Communism, the selfishness of a President or the surprise scandal for an up-and-coming senator, if Advise & Consent were a novel, it would be a real page-turner (and apparently was, having been adapted from a novel).

The story revolves around the president’s nominee for Secretary of State, Robert A. Leffingwell (Henry Fonda). While his character is the main catalyst for the film’s events, I would hardly call him the lead character. Mostly, the film is filled with a slate of talented supporting actors lead by the brilliant Charles Laughton whose lack of an Oscar nomination is surprising. He plays a southern senator named “Seab” Cooley who begins a witch hunt against Leffingwell when he discovers that perhaps Leffingwell is a Communist, based on the quickly rebutted testimony of a government worker played by Burgess Meredith. Despite no political party designations being referenced in the film, it’s fairly clear that the Democrats are in the minority, but I respect that the makers wanted to make this seem like a universal story and not one that would be unique to either party.

Heading the committee to question Leffingwell, “Brig” Anderson, played by Don Murray, must wrestle with his convictions about whether to support and pass through Leffingwell’s nomination. However, when a scandal threatens to destroy his marriage and his political career, it leads to some rather intriguing soul searching and a less than friendly conclusion. Matter of fact, this one storyline was quite brave for 1962 and is one of the things I respect most about the piece. Even though the female performers in the film (Gene Tierney and Inga Swenson) never really have much of a role in the film, it is still a strong dramatic ensemble. Other notable performances come from Walter Pigeon as the Senate Majority Leader, Franchot Tone as the president and Lew Ayres as the Vice President.

SEPARATE TABLES

Set in a quaint British seaside hotel, Separate Tables is a hard film to describe because it doesn’t seem to be about one central topic. The story seems to center around a drunken American played by Burt Lancaster who has run away from the States and his ex-wife played by Rita Hayworth in an effort to try and find some peace. He does so with the hotel’s proprietress played by Wendy Hiller, but when his ex shows up to try and woo him back, they must reconcile their love and hate for each other.

Around them are a strange array of hotel guests including a disagreeable dowager played by Gladys Cooper, her repressed daughter played by Deborah Kerr, a retired Army Major with a questionable past played by David Niven and a host of other minor residents who seem to only have circumstantial impact on the story. And that’s one of the film’s failures. They have so many unnecessary stories going on that it feels almost as if screenwriter Terence Rattigan didn’t exactly know where to take his adaptation of his own stage play. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Kerr so unglamorous, but she plays her part quite well. Niven is better than most of the rest of the cast in his Oscar winning role, but the performance that has the most impact is the one given by Hiller. Although she isn’t stripping off the glamor like Kerr, she creates a refined, selfless role that channels the film’s only real emotional core. Here she is competing against a gorgeous woman for a man’s affection and she attempts to remain above the fray and keep her emotions about her. Kudos also go to Gladys Cooper for a strong performance as the disagreeable and controlling mother.

If the film could have been more about life and love, it might have made for a stronger statement; however, the love triangle seems ultimately unnecessary and the witch hunt against the Major for his untoward predilections makes for nice class commentary, but it all seems for naught. The Hayworth/Lancaster/Hiller saga lacks resolution, but the closing scene in the dining hall, with nearly everyone at their separate tables, is a strong finale to an otherwise uneven film.

TORCHWOOD

I have only barely gotten into this show and while I’m still not certain how I will ultimately feel about it, the premise is interesting and diverse enough that it should be able to hold my attention long enough to figure out what the overarching plot is. The plot so far is a bit convoluted, but that may be a result of having only seen three episodes to date. The premise of the show is a group of secretive investigators tracking down aliens and their artifacts and attempting to keep the public in the dark about it.

The characters are somewhat unique, though they do fall into fairly obvious prearranged roles. Yet, you feel a connection to these characters that many shows take multiple seasons to develop. It’s what helps keeping in touch with this show so much easier than I would have expected. Of course, strange goings-on also help keep my attention. Hopefully, the rest of the season piques my interests further or I won’t be giving season two a shot.

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